A Tale of Two Cities.
It was the best of times. It was a tale of two cities.
With my time in the aviation wilderness imposed by COVID behind me and my command training on the Boeing 737 completed, the sweat-sucking sun of Darwin was a pleasant source of relief. With more than 24 hours before I was to operate the “red eye” flight back to Sydney, I set course for a 10-kilometre trek from my hotel to the Darwin Military Museum. And while the museum could be the source of a post on its own, it was walking in the footsteps of history – aviation’s and my own – that was to stir my emotions.
With a backpack full of water bottles and a broad-brimmed hat, I wended my way through Darwin’s residential area before the shores of Fanny Bay were before me. These skies had once been filled with attacking Japanese aircraft and the horizon hidden behind rising smoke from ships at anchor and land installations alike. With each step there seemed to be some remnant of the battle. Concrete footings where searchlights had once stood and sawn-off domestic water tanks where machine-gunners arced their tracer rounds into the sky. Rusted cables that had anchored anti-submarine nets and towers where lookouts scanned above. Darwin – Australia’s frontline of World War Two.
Decades before the air was filled with fire, Fanny Bay welcomed Sir Ross and Sir Keith Smith as they edged their Vickers Vimy to earth having flown from England, winning the epic 1919 Air Race. Today, almost as an aside, a memorial near their point of touchdown commemorates that achievement, while the Vimy survives to this day, displayed at Adelaide Airport.
As I stepped along history’s path, overhead aircraft of the modern era buzzed overhead, gear down and flaps extended as they readied to land at Darwin. More than thirty years ago, that was me. Living in a caravan in Kununurra as a young charter pilot, a flight to Darwin meant a return KFC run to convey rarely seen junk food back to the starving horde of young aviators. Sitting in my Cessna 310R in those times felt like flying a magic carpet and to this day, many of my fondest memories of my aviation career relate to my days in Kununurra. No money, lots of friendships and fascinating remote area flying in the days before GPS.
Darwin and Kununurra – A tale of two cities. It has been the best of times.